If you bite down on a hard piece of food with enough force like a cold chunk of solid chocolate, this can lead to a clicking noise in your jaw.

“It is not uncommon to see patients who come to the office stating that they had a prior minor jaw concern or no problem, until they bit down on a hard roll, granola bar, hard piece of chocolate, etc.,” says Donald R. Tanenbaum, DDS, MPH, a board certified TMJ and orofacial pain specialist, and author of “Doctor, Why Does My Face Still Ache.”

“When doing so they experienced a sudden slip of the jaw, heard a big crack, ‘saw stars,’ or ‘felt and explosion’….leading to pain, limited jaw opening, and/or a change in their bite.”

Biting Down on Hard Chocolate Causing Clicking Jaw

In my case, I was biting down on a cold chunk of solid chocolate and had to press my teeth hard, several times, to get it to fragment just once.

I did this two or three times, and after that, I realized that my jaw felt uncomfortable (though there were no sounds at that time), though the discomfort was gone within a while.

Several days later my jaw began clicking, though everything else was normal. The noise was soft.

“Essentially what happened is analogous to the athlete who, while performing, heard a big pop or explosion in their knee and were subsequently disabled, often with pain,” continues Dr. Tanenbaum.

Why Biting Down Hard Can Make the Jaw Click

“In both these scenarios there has been a gross failure of the supporting ligaments of the joint, allowing the cartilage to slip out of place wither partially or fully, leading in the TMJ to a click or a more profound limitation of motion.”

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, a ball-and-socket type of joint (like the hip bone is a ball-and-socket). The cartilage that absorbs the shock sits on top of the bone that moves.

“Picture your hand on a stick shift with the shift being the bone, the palm the cartilage and the fingers the ligaments which keep the cartilage in place,” says Dr. Tanenbaum.

“If the ligaments stretch or fail, the cartilage will slip forwards in the TMJ and become an interference to motion, leading to clicks which can be audible and painful.”

Though this problem can occur when frayed ligaments are ready to fail, says Dr. Tanenbaum, the noise in the jaw can also “occur randomly during a chewing event when the chewer was not anticipating resistance from food.”

Frankly, I was quite aggravated that I was having so much trouble fragmenting the chocolate, biting down hard with my back teeth while I was holding the piece in my hand.

“Reasons for ligaments to be frayed and unstable can include prior habits of tooth clenching and grinding, nail and cuticle biting, chronic heavy gum chewing, or past histories of trauma that may have made the ligaments unstable,” says Dr. Tanenbaum.

“Following pregnancies the TMJ ligaments can also be lax, and/or a person may have hypermobility of all there joints predisposing to this scenario.”

So if you hear a clicking, grating or grinding sound in your jaw, ask yourself if within the past few days you were biting unusually hard on some food.

Dr. Tanenbaum’s practice focuses on facial pain, TMJ disorder and sleep-related breathing disorders. He is the past president of the American Academy of Orofacial Pain and takes a multidisciplinary approach to his patients’ care.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.